What the Little Ukraine Neighbors Remember


Andrew Ilnicki, 59, runs the East Village Meat Current market.

Ilnicki this thirty day period.
Image: Dina Litovsky

My father experienced an aunt right here residing across the road on St. Marks Area concerning 1st and 2nd Avenues. She invited him to New York. I was 17 and I arrived along for aid. I can try to remember accurately — July 28, 1980. It was so sizzling and humid. And we came in suits! Gentle brown, corduroy. Everybody else was sporting limited sleeves and even shorter pants. We were being not accustomed to likely into the town with small pants.

We didn’t discuss English at all. My uncle advised me I had to uncover a position. There was an ad in the newspaper that they essential a butcher below at the meat sector. My aunt walked me throughout the avenue to fulfill Mr. Baczynsky. I wore the similar fit. My aunt was speaking to him, and he claimed, “I really do not will need a boy I will need a butcher!” So we turned close to, but before we got to the doorway, he called us back. He instructed me to arrive on Friday to function with the cashier. I really don’t know what made him improve his thoughts, but I commenced that Friday.

Enterprise was distinctive then. It was Ukrainians, Polish persons — I do not want to use the phrase Russian, but they were being buyers much too. They were hungry. They have been tough-performing guys in development and women that labored evenings cleansing. So kielbasa, ham, blood sausage, liverwurst — a great deal of their comfort foods. Meat was huge due to the fact absolutely everyone was cooking at residence. 5, 10 instances of chickens a working day. While the cashier was ringing people today up, my work was bagging it.

Right after two weeks, Mr. Baczynsky mentioned, “Don’t come on Friday. Come on Monday.” Then he commenced exhibiting me the slicer device, the scale — I started off discovering all the goods that we’re marketing. It was easy I acquired immediately. And then just after two extra weeks, a person of the butchers explained, “Congratulations, you are going to be our manager sometime.” I was 18 then. I seemed at him: “Yeah, ideal, I’m likely to invest all my daily life in this article.”

Mr. Baczynsky, I produced a specific bond with him. I was a good match. He took me to his property on the Jersey shore, and he under no circumstances took nobody to his household. Nobody. Quite a few individuals think that I was his son.

What was Mr. Baczynsky like? He was a Ukrainian man, born in Zhytomyr. He was wise. He had an engineering diploma. He opened his 1st butcher store in 1955 on 10th Road and Avenue B. He opened this store in 1970. He was a hardworking, generous dude. Incredibly spiritual, him and his spouse. She worked below way too. It was like they phone now a papa-mama small business. They used to come here jointly to open up the retail outlet at three o’clock in the morning. He would function in the kitchen, smoking meats, and she would clean. This was their pride — the retailer often appeared spotless. It is been 52 decades, and the shop nevertheless appears to be excellent. I imply, it’s aged, it is not present day, but it is not slipping down.

The butcher shop in 1983.
Image: Gift of Maria and Julian Baczynsky. Courtesy of The Ukrainian Museum

He beloved every thing new and up to date. He adjusted his car each and every yr — he generally desired a new smell. That was him. Just about every Sunday, he was at the Waldorf-Astoria immediately after church for brunch. He was a standard there for 30, 40 years. He cherished uptown. You bear in mind The 4 Seasons? He had a desk up coming to the pool. There was a famous French restaurant, La Côte Basque. He was a typical there as well. The dining establishments close to here ended up not definitely his design and style.

In 1988, he experienced a heart attack and started out performing a lot less. He could not come in so early, so he found a substitute: me. His wife employed to simply call me at 2:30, 3:30 in the morning to come decide on her up and just take her to the retailer. It was like that for six, seven yrs. They ended up making ready me to just take in excess of the business. Nothing at all had to be explained directly they clearly show you how to do the payroll, how to get anything, how to watch the quantities.

And then in 1992, they handed above the company to me and this other guy, Tony, who worked in the kitchen and made the sausage. We ran the business together for 25 decades. Now it’s just me. I really don’t know who will just take above when I retire. I have two kids, but they do not want to do it. It’s really hard, physical do the job. You need an immigrant who’s ambitious, who believes in the American Aspiration. Offering, having care of the purchaser, it is simple. But we’re producing the products and solutions. We’re developing a little something.

These days, the Ukrainians who utilised to store listed here on a regular basis have turn into old. The health professionals explain to them not to try to eat far too considerably salt or sodium nitrates. Eighty p.c of our business now is English-talking folks who dwell in the neighborhood. A number of yrs ago, we commenced advertising ready foods. That is the most significant factor now, particularly on Saturday. We sell three distinctive types of soup. We market stuffed cabbage, kielbasa, sauerkraut, ten diverse varieties of blintzes. Pierogi. Baked chickens — a great deal of chickens. Usually, the only significant adjust is that we determined to command the amount of money of salt that we use. We just started out advertising a metropolis ham — that’s a new detail. It’s smaller and lean. No one in the metropolis wishes to take in unwanted fat.

At a person stage, I thought about leaving. I went to college at NYU — $295 a credit history.  I did it for 6 decades, and I labored here the full time. I analyzed business enterprise, of study course — accounting, management, finance, economics. I was fantastic in economics. I’m nonetheless good. I experienced a professor who was some variety of guy at Suppliers Hanover Belief lender, and he available me a occupation. They had a headquarters on Park Avenue, and on major of the roof, they experienced a restaurant where executives used to go for lunch. He mentioned, “If you keep right here for a year or two, that’s where by you are likely to take in!” The income was it’s possible two, three situations far more than I utilised to make listed here. Did not consider it. Due to the fact of Mr. Baczynsky!